It’s almost time for the first major astronomical event of the new year, the Super Blue Blood Moon. The Super Blue Blood Moon is a series of astronomical events set to take place together: a lunar eclipse, a supermoon, and a blue moon.
The event will take place early Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Eastern portion of the United States, viewing the event will be a challenge.
According to Chris Benner, research associate professor of physics at William & Mary, there are three overlapping lunar events, each taking place Wednesday morning.
The supermoon, Benner said, occurs at perigee — when the moon and earth come the closest during the moon’s orbit. However, it can be difficult for the human eye to perceive the differences from Earth.
The second event is the so-called blood moon, which is the nickname given to a lunar eclipse.
Benner said the blood moon’s names comes from the reddish tint the moon sometimes takes during lunar eclipses because of light that passes through the Earth’s atmosphere and is cast upon the moon. However, the moon does not always take this color during eclipses.
“Sometimes they’re red, sometimes very red. Usually they’re not,” Benner said. “If the upper atmosphere is very dusty…the moon can be so dark you can’t see it. If the atmosphere is clear it doesn’t take much of a red tint at all, it’s more of a yellowish color.”
The best viewing for the event will be the West Coast, but there is still a chance to see the effects of the lunar event in Virginia.
“If you’re on the west coast or the Pacific Ocean it’s going to be a nice lunar eclipse,” Benner said. “We’re kind of on the edge of things.”
Brenner said the eclipse will be partially visible for about 24 minutes Wednesday morning, between when the Earth’s shadow begins to envelop the moon at 6:48 a.m. and when the moon sinks beneath the horizon.
The best chance to catch a view of the eclipse locally is to head to a high place and look in the direction west-northwest, opposite the sunrise. The next lunar eclipse that will be viewable in North America is almost one year away, in January of 2019, according to NASA.
The third and final event is the blue moon, or a second full moon in the month. Benner said blue moons happen, on average, about once every 2.7 years.
The last full moon was Jan. 1, and Wednesday morning is also a full moon. Because February is only 28 days and the lunar cycle is about 29 days, March will also see two full moons.
The term ‘blue moon,’ Benner said, once referred to the third full moon in a season, but has changed due to mistakes printed in science and astronomy magazines in the middle of the 20th century.
In fact, Benner said that all three phrases that make up the Super Blue Blood Moon nickname are misnomers.
“You don’t really notice the difference in the brightness or size of the supermoon,” Benner said. “The blue moon has nothing to do with the color and has only to do with the calendar, and blood moon is not always an apt description — it’s not always blood red.”